Teacher helps bring harmony to the heartland

Zhang Dong passes on big city job offers to educate children in rural areas

By LIU MINGTAI in Changchun and ZHOU HUIYING | China Daily | Updated: 2024-03-27 08:50
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She teaches children about the staff during a music class. [Photo for CHINA DAILY]

As the new spring semester begins, music teacher Zhang Dong is quite happy to see her students at the rural schools she visits in Jilin city, Jilin province.

Zhang, 41, has been working at Yangmu Experimental Primary School in Longtan district for over 16 years.

In 2007, after graduating with the highest score in the professional exam from the vocal performance department of Yanbian University in Jilin, Zhang refused several job opportunities to be a music teacher or member of orchestras in large cities.

"I grew up in a rural area, and both my grandfather and father were village teachers," she said. "Therefore, I decided to come back to my hometown and teach the children in the countryside to sing, helping them realize their dreams."

In March 2018, when Zhang got the news from the principal that students at affiliated primary schools in three villages of Datun, Zhaotun and Huanggou had no music classes because they lacked instructors, she immediately volunteered to teach them.

Beginning on March 6, she took on a new role as a visiting teacher.

In addition to teaching at her own school, Zhang had to create a schedule that would allow her time to visit the three rural schools, each of which is about 10 kilometers apart. "It was not easy to ride an electric bicycle on the country roads. It took a lot of time, but I persevered," she said.

Zhang said she became more determined to teach them when she encountered students who didn't even recognize standard instruments such as an electronic keyboard. She soon introduced them to various kinds.

"The students were quite excited when they first touched instruments such as flute, accordion and jazz drums," she said. "The music class has become their festival."

She and her students often hold music classes in natural settings, including beside haystacks. [Photo for CHINA DAILY]

Although the students often make mistakes in rhythm, Zhang has never scolded them.

"Finding joy in music is the most important thing," she said.

Adhering to her educational philosophy of "integrating music into life and aligning the curriculum with practice", Zhang has held music classes with her students in the mountains, beside haystacks and along rivers, so they could fully appreciate the beauty brought by music and nature.

In August 2018, Zhang established the Yangshumiao Choir, attracting students from Yangmu Experimental Primary School as well as the three village schools.

"At that time, our school didn't even have a dedicated music classroom, let alone supporting facilities," she said.

"I mobilized my friends and family members to donate performance costumes worth 4,200 yuan ($582) and brought my own electric piano to the school."

Over the years, she has also rallied support from compassionate businesses and individuals, raising over 100,000 yuan in music equipment for rural schools.

Through her unwavering efforts, the choir has received acclaim. A short video of their performance has accumulated millions of views online. Students from the mountains have since participated in various competitions and received opportunities to appear on television programs.

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